In recent years, Japanese decorative techniques have quietly penetrated into the Swiss watchmaking industry. This root is based on common values, especially the attention to detail and portrayal. Wood grain metal, red painting, lacquer art, dill painting, etc. Many Japanese decorative arts have already died, and can only wait for their extinction, but now they are glamorous and open new windows in the Swiss watchmaking industry. Leaving aside the traditional craftsmanship of engraving, enamel and gem setting, many Swiss watchmakers have already paid tribute to Japanese master craftsmen. They are the last guardians of those ancient skills, and they are respected as ‘national treasures’ by the Japanese. The seemingly accidental encounter has a solid foundation, and it is a bridge of communication and collaboration for the almost paranoid focus on details. The latest example is from Harry Winston. The Premiere Precious Weaving 36mm self-winding watch uses Japanese weaving techniques, with gold threads and natural silver mother-of-pearl flakes overlapping each other. In addition to commercial success, Swiss watchmakers seem to have found a second self in the painstaking tradition of Japanese artisans.
Harry Winston Premiere Precious Weaving 36mm self-winding watch, using Japanese weaving techniques, overlapping gold threads with natural silver mother-of-pearl flakes
The work of Kees Engelbarts, the dial is inspired by the Japanese sword blade, traditionally made of wood grain metal
Almost certainly, Kees Engelbarts was the first person to introduce Japanese decorative techniques to the Swiss watchmaking industry. Kees Engelbarts was born in the Netherlands and moved to Geneva in the 1980s. He trained in the Netherlands and Germany to learn about hand-carving. In his 1997 watchmaking debut, Kees Engelbarts chose a technology that the industry had never explored before-Mokume-gane, literally wood-grain metal. Laying various metal flakes on top of each other and then heating them, the resulting effect is strikingly similar to natural wood grain. The secret lies in the different melting points of the metals. This craft was originally used to make Japanese knives and is now popular in the jewelry industry. ‘I was an apprentice when I learned about wood grain metal,’ said Kees Engelbarts. ‘I have been to Japan more than twenty times, but I never really studied the technique there. But I met with my colleagues and learned from them.’
Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’ Art ‘Les Masques’
More than a decade later, the work of Kees Engelbarts has become a source of inspiration for other brands, and Vacheron Constantin is one of them. Vacheron Constantin was originally a supporter of Métiers d’ Art, and in 2010 it became the first watchmaker to present the art of painting. Artisans create patterns by spraying gold powder on wet paint, the so-called dill painting, which means ‘spray into a painting.’ ‘Métiers d’Art ‘Les Masques’ is a brand new attempt by Vacheron Constantin, and the huge response is far beyond the watchmaking circle,’ recalled Christian Selmoni, art director. ‘Zôhiko was one of the oldest lacquerware workshops in Japan. The cooperation was completely unexpected, and this is the beginning of everything! ”Subsequently, the Métiers d’Art ‘La Symbolique des Laques’ series launched watches with different themes within three years, each year a set of three new watches , Limited to twenty sets.
Collision of ideas
Chopard L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Monkey
Master Makie Koizumi has painted gold on the dial
Chopard then launched a Japanese-style watch collection: L.U.C XP Urushi. The series is named after a rare tree that is only present in Japan and China. Its sap can be used to make the base paint of the maki painting technique. ‘A handful of watches from the hands of lacquer master Kiichiro Masura in 2008 have been exhibited in Japan,’ said Guy Bove, a former Chopard creative director (now a consultant). ‘The idea was to apply a certain material technique , Presents Chopard watchmaking, and resonates with Japan. We like those watches very much, and so does the public, so the brand decided to make a complete collection. ‘At the Basel International Watch & Jewellery Show this year, the Lupin XP Urushi Year of the Monkey launched by Chopard. The limited edition watch is the latest masterpiece of this series.
Kari Voutilainen, 28 Hisui watch, 29 mm in platinum case, hour and minute display function, the manual winding movement equipped with it is completely handmade, the dial is decorated with dill painting technology, the material is gold powder and shell fragments
Although Kari Voutilainen is an advocate of pure Swiss watchmaking tradition, he also opens his heart and embraces Japanese craftsmanship. In 2011, Kari Voutilainen released the first collaboration between the Personal Trava Valley Workshop and Wajma (a small fishing village in eastern Tokyo) Unryuan Studio. This studio, called ‘Yunlongyu’, is hosted by ‘The National Treasure of the World’, Takao Kitamura, and continues the art of painting. In addition to gold powder and lacquer, the artist’s creative materials also include gold foil, green turquoise shell and New Zealand abalone shell, achieving a unique rainbow miniature mosaic artistic effect. ‘From 1999 to 2002, I taught at WOSTEP (Swiss Watchmaker Training and Education Project), and a Japanese student introduced me to Kitamura Tatsuo,’ explained Kari Voutilainen. ‘If I just picked up the phone, I asked for it, He would not agree to see me, he must be recommended. ‘Initial contact has developed into mutual respect. So far, the two have worked together to create six timepiece works. ‘What matters to me is the ethics and good values behind Japanese art, and this explains why the atmosphere between the two workshops is so similar.’
Continuation of tradition
Hermès Slim dʼHermès Koma Kurabe watch, Saffle porcelain dial, detailed with red painting, showing the annual horse racing scene of the Shrine
In 2015, Hermès launched the Slim dʼHermès Koma Kurabe watch. It came out of both unexpected invitations and thanks to both parties’ interest in each other’s work. ‘In 2010, a small Hermès delegation went to Kanazawa and, under the direction of the Japanese authorities, explored local handicrafts,’ recalled Art Director Philippe Delhotal. ‘It was during this trip that I met Fukuyama, Fukushima. He is an expert in Japanese red painting crafts, especially good at painting on ceramics. I asked him if he was interested in making watch dials, and he gladly agreed. ‘After extensive research, it took another two years to finally select Saffle porcelain as the dial Material. The pigment comes from iron oxide powder and has a bright magenta color. Takeshima Fukushima reproduces the scene of the Koma Kurabe horse racing event on the dial. This event is held once a year at the Tokyo Kamobetsu Shrine (built in 678 AD).
Japanese national treasure master craftsman, ceramic painting expert Takeyama Fukushima
The popularity of Métiers d’Art in the watchmaking industry has helped revive some of the forgotten skills; watchmakers have shown what Guy Bove has called an ‘open mindset’ and are beginning to explore a more distant horizon; and Japan is very happy Welcome on the ground. Kari Voutilainen said excitedly: ‘I was immediately overwhelmed by the attention to detail and the superb craftsmanship. It was shocking.’ Christian Selmoni confirmed: ‘Japanese do not speak English, we do not speak Japanese. But after a while After time, we can be more in line with the plating company than before. This is a truly rich and fulfilling experience. ‘For the Japanese,’ Working with Swiss watchmakers is also a way for them to continue their tradition. ‘